Syria after the US withdrawal

Published 23.12.2018 21:06
Updated 24.12.2018 08:00

A possible Daesh resurgence, the PKK's further activities and who will fill the power vacuum are some questions that have quickly emerged in the aftermath of Trump's decision to pull out of Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria made headlines everywhere. Although Trump reportedly made the decision during a recent phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House liked the idea of withdrawal in the first place. As a matter of fact, Trump recalled in a later statement that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was one of his campaign promises – which is true. Yet, the Pentagon had been able to block Trump's withdrawal efforts by raising strong objections.

There are important questions that need answering now: What will Syria look like after Trump's decision to pull out? Will there be a resurgence of Daesh activity? What lies ahead for the terrorist organization PKK? How will the U.S. ensure Israel's security? Will Russia be the only global power in the Syrian theater? And finally, who will fill the power vacuum that Washington will leave behind – the Bashar Assad regime, Iran or Turkey?

Let's start with Daesh. It should go without saying that the group has presented a huge challenge to people around the world – not just Syria. Yet, the tactical response to Daesh terrorism has paid off, and the group was cornered on a small piece of land, unable to move. Turkey was the first country to conduct a military operation that dealt a heavy blow to the terrorists. Operation Euphrates Shield, which the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) carried out in northern Syria to liberate Jarabulus and al-Bab, among other places, resulted in territorial losses for Daesh and proved that the terrorists could not succeed against an effective regular fighting force.

There is another point to stress here: in recent months, the global coalition has been able to contain the terrorists. Yet, the competing terrorist organizations, the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), have been trying to perpetuate that fight because fighting Daesh was good for business. Therefore, the group wants Daesh to stick around as a minor threat – just powerful enough to facilitate negotiations with global and regional stakeholders. In other words, Syria without Daesh is bad news for PKK/YPG militants.

I woke up to that reality in a recent interview with Talal Silo, the former spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who told me that PKK/YPG commanders allowed Daesh terrorists access to Jarabulus in order to hurt Turkish interests. As a matter of fact, Daesh fighters had been using PKK/YPG identification cards to transit through northern Syria. With its power diminished, Daesh evolved into a paper tiger that certain groups, including the PKK/YPG, exploited in negotiations with outsiders. The time for the total elimination of Daesh, a destabilizing force in Syria, is now. Yet, we cannot accomplish that mission with PKK/YPG terrorists as proxies. Turkey will conduct anti-Daesh activities in various parts of Syria, as it did in Jarabulus and al-Bab. The organization will never again threaten humanity.

Some question whether Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria will undermine Israel's national security. Such questions are utterly meaningless. The U.S. will leave the Syrian theater but maintain a strong presence elsewhere in the Middle East. There are U.S. military bases scattered across the region, and the U.S. Navy remains highly active in the eastern Mediterranean. If Washington intends to ensure Israel's safety, it won't find it difficult to serve that purpose.

What if the Assad regime or Iranian-backed militias seize Syrian territories where U.S. troops used to be based? That could certainly cause some problems. Iran will clearly want to fill the power vacuum that Washington will leave behind. Tehran does not go to great lengths to hide its sectarian, discriminatory and aggressive policies. If Iran gets what it wants, the restabilization of Syria will be postponed indefinitely. Therefore, we must prevent the regime and pro-Iran militias from entering former U.S. strongholds in Syria. This is crucial to the country's stability as well as the safety of Turkey and other regional players.

Who will take over the former U.S.-controlled territories? Across those areas in northern Syria, there must be no outside influence except legitimate bodies and the Syrian people themselves – which means that Syrians will be able to return to their homes and govern themselves.

It is crucial to reverse the impact of the PKK/YPG's ethnic cleansing in the relevant parts of northern Syria and hand over the government of predominantly Arab areas to that community. The problem of illegal immigration will go away when Syrian Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds go back to their homes and coexist peacefully in their native country.

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